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Humanoid robot Nao wants to be friends

Humanoid robot Nao shows off its movement, interaction, and balance skills in a new video from developer Aldebaran Robotics, which plans a release in late 2010.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
2 min read
Aldebaran Robotics

Aldebaran Robotics is showcasing the skills of its pint-size humanoid robot Nao ahead of its planned mass market release in about a year.

Nao is definitely one of the coolest humanoids around that stands a chance of making it into households as a real product. Aldebaran envisions it as "an autonomous family companion."

Fully programmable, the 23-inch bot boasts 25 degrees of freedom, affording it an impressive range of motion. Check it out in Nao's new promo vid after the jump.

Nao can grasp objects with its prehensile hands; process image and sound data; and navigate its environment using its sonars. Multimedia features include high-fi speakers, microphones, and CMOS digital cameras.

The biped runs on an x86 AMD Geocode 500 MHz CPU, 256MB SDRAM, 2GB flash memory, and lithium polymer batteries that last about 90 minutes per charge.

With striking similarities to Sony's discontinued Qrio humanoid, you'd think Nao was made in Japan. Pas du tout. Aldebaran is based in Paris, though Nao can only speak English.

Watch this: Humanoid robot Nao shows off its skills

Two years ago, Nao replaced Sony's robot dog Aibo, which had been discontinued along with Qrio, as the "standard platform" for soccer-playing robots at the annual RoboCup tournament.

This video shows some Naos on the pitch. They're certainly slow and clumsy, but it's early yet. Aibo was quite a bit speedier.

Aldebaran has shipped more than 100 units of the Nao Academics Edition and Nao RoboCup Edition to roboticists and hobbyists since last year, and began beta testing a household version in June.

According to the firm, a commercial edition is slated for late 2010, though that was pushed back from late 2009.

Price is always a major downside to the viability of sophisticated commercial robots. At $2,000, Aibo never broke through its robot pet-loving fanbase but managed to sell some 150,000 units.

It's unclear how much Nao would retail for. The Academics edition has sold for as much as 10,000 euros ($14,600), but the beta testers are apparently getting two household editions for 4,800 euros ($7,000).

So Nao isn't likely to be under too many Christmas trees at the end of next year. But Aldebaran says it's committed "to make available to the public, at an affordable price, a humanoid robot with mechanical, electronic, and cognitive features."

Let's hope little Nao fares better than Qrio and Aibo.